Recap: #91 – #120

Our latest recap takes us from October of 1959 through to July of 1961 – a shade under two years – our shortest burst of thirty #1s yet. But ahead of that I’d like to wish all you readers of the UK Number Ones Blog a very happy new year, and all the best for 2019. May it be a truly chart-topping year for you all!

How to sum up the past bunch, then? I’d perhaps go for a term that I used in earlier posts: ‘the castration of rock ‘n’ roll…’ Whereas in our previous recap we had huge, era-defining, rock ‘n’ roll chart-toppers from Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, and Elvis – Goodness Gracious! Everybody let’s rock! That’ll be the Day, my dream lover! – this past bunch has been a lot more gentile. More sedate. Slightly dull at times…?

We kicked off the sixties with a run of pleasant enough easy-listening pop-songs-with-rock ‘n’ roll-flourishes. A couple from Adam Faith. A couple from Anthony Newley. A return to the top for Michael Holliday. Lonnie Donegan losing all his fizz on ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’. Nothing particularly wrong with any of them – in fact I picked out ‘Starry Eyed’ and ‘Poor Me’ at the time as decent little pop records – but all a little homogenous. Then there’s Cliff, who may be the biggest star Britain has to offer at this time, but who has consistently struggled to raise a pulse with throwaway fluff like ‘Travellin’ Light’ and ‘I Love You’. So – plenty of blandness from which to crown our latest ‘Meh’ award winner. I’m going to roll the dice and give the trophy to ‘Why’ by Anthony Newley, for erring too much on the cute side, and for relying a little too much on a xylophone.

Talking of slightly bland, slightly disappointing records… We need to talk about Elvis. He’s back, fresh from the army, with four #1s in a little over six months. Which makes it four chart-toppers in the previous recap; four in this one. And while we still missed out on the truly raw, Sun Records Elvis; we were still getting plenty of vim and vigour on discs such as ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘One Night’, and ‘I Got Stung’ back then. Now, however, we’re getting granny-pleasing light opera on ‘It’s Now or Never’ and ‘Surrender’, and simpering (though heartfelt) ballads like ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ Elvis has lost his bite, and with him, it seems, so has rock ‘n’ roll as a whole. He has pretty much invented the modern pop superstar over the past few months, though. Every single release of his marching to the top of the charts and spending extended periods of time in residence at the summit. And it shows no sign of ending as we move into the next thirty discs. Elvis ain’t leaving the building just yet.

I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture of pop music at the dawn of the sixties, though. If you stop searching for the lesser-spotted rock song, you’ll find a pleasingly wide variety of other chart-toppers. Since October ’59, we’ve had Big Band sounds from Bobby Darin and ‘Mack the Knife’, jaunty doo-wop in the shape of Emile Ford’s ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’, fun novelties with ‘Running Bear’, piano rags with Floyd Cramer and the purest of pure pop in Johnny Tillotson’s ‘Poetry in Motion’. All these records fall into the ‘good – often quirky – but not worthy of honour’ category. Instead, we have to give credit to a real outlier – a record that squeaked a week at the top and really made me stop and think ‘Huh?’ I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the winner of this round’s ‘WTAF’ Award is ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven: a record that was simultaneously modern and meta, retro and nostalgic. And slightly smug.

Before I get down to the main awards – the best and the worst – it’s time for an honourable mention. ‘Sailor’, by Petula Clark, topped the charts for a single week back in February ’61. One week, out of the ninety-three it’s taken to cover the past thirty songs. But it was the only song in this recap to have been sung by a lady. Under other circumstances, ‘Sailor’ – a syrupy and somewhat old-fashioned ballad – might have qualified for the ‘Meh’ Award. As it is, the fact that it was sung by a member of the fairer sex is enough to make it stand out.

So, to the worst. Two songs immediately spring to mind, standing head, shoulders and torso above the rest. I was about to close the competition, call the bets off, after I heard Ricky Valance’s ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ – the deathliest of death discs. But I hadn’t reckoned with us hitting Elvis’s ‘Lederhosen Phase’… ‘Tell Laura…’ is a truly awful song; but it’s a one-hit wonder, a novelty of sorts. ‘Wooden Heart’ is the sound of the world’s most famous singer, a sex-symbol the sight of whose pelvis once caused widespread swooning, serenading some puppets in German. And topping the UK charts for six weeks in the process. There can only be one winner…

Let’s clear our mind of that trash, though, as we have a Best Disc to pick. I’ve whittled the best of this bunch down to seven classics. We have: Bobby Darin’s ‘Mack the Knife’ for bringing along some classy swing. ‘Apache’ for reinventing the much-maligned (by me, anyway) instrumental. ‘Only the Lonely’ as the breakthrough for the ever-young voice of Roy Orbison. ‘Blue Moon’ for giving us a shot in the arm of frenzied, acapella doo-wop. And Del Shannon’s inventive yet timeless ‘Runaway’. But none of these discs – excellent as they are – quite make it. Two remain. I really want to hand the trophy to ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, for being the one genuine rock ‘n’ roll disc here. A British rock ‘n’ roll disc, nonetheless, with a killer riff and sweat-drenched vocals. But. I am only human; and I can’t not award the Best of the Last 30 to… ‘Cathy’s Clown’ by the Everlys. Why? Just click on the link and listen, that’s why!

In case you’ve lost track, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4.  ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.

Our next thirty will take us right up to the dawn of Merseybeat – what those on the other side of the Atlantic call the ‘British Invasion’. Strap yourselves in. Before that, though… We wrapped this recap up with the Everlys, and we kick the next round off with none other than the…

120. ‘Runaway’, by Del Shannon

Hold up! Just before I pause for another recap, what’s this I hear? A late contender for best song?

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Runaway, by Del Shannon (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 29th June – 20th July 1961

This is a song the greatness of which has long been recognised. I’m not sure I can add much more to the debate. ‘Runaway’, by Del Shannon, is a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, ‘Rolling Stone’ Top 500-songs-ever kind of tune. It’s catchy, it’s innovative, it’s irresistible. It comes in all a-frenzy and lifts you up, up and away on a frantic piano riff. As I walk along, I wonder, What went wrong with our love, A love that was so strong…

Let’s break it down, shall we? I can now state – after an extensive bout of listening to said song – that the brilliance of ‘Runaway’ can be put down to three things. Of which number one is… The rasp in Shannon’s voice as he sings the chorus. I’m a-walkin’ in the rain, Tears are fallin’ and I, Feel the pain… He truly sounds heartbroken, singing at the top of his lungs as if it will help bring his runaway baby back.

Number two… The hook. Every classic pop song needs one. Here it’s simple enough: I wonder, I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder… And just to be sure: Why? Why-why-why-why-why? Ask anyone to sing a line from ‘Runaway’ and I bet they recreate (probably quite painfully) Del Shannon’s falsetto on these lines.

And number three… The solo. This is the innovative bit. Because what in God’s name is that instrument? It sounds weird enough to my modern ears. To the unsuspecting people of 1961 it must have sounded like it was coming from another planet. It’s a Musitron – an early version of the synthesiser. And so we have what is technically the first ever electronic #1 single – around twenty years early! This is why I love the charts. The fact that it is a list of songs based solely on how many people have bought them. Nothing else. Anything can follow anything. Which means one month on from The Temperance Seven’s ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ looking back to the 1920s, we have ‘Runaway’ and its crazed Musitron solo looking forward to the 1980s.

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There are plenty other reasons why this is a classic, of course. But why bother trying to explain? It might be the chords, the minor key, the tempo… Or yes, it might be the solo, the hook or the voice. But some songs just have ‘it’ – that magic formula that ensures a timeless hit.

Del Shannon – AKA Charles Westover – had been in the music business since the mid-fifties, and ‘Runaway’ was his first and his biggest hit. He wouldn’t have any subsequent hits as big. I’m semi-familiar with his other work: ‘Hat’s Off to Larry’ is catchy enough, but I would recommend the brilliant ‘Little Town Flirt’ as his best song that isn’t you-know-what. He had several further Top 10 hits in his native US, and even more in the UK, but no more #1s. He descended into alcoholism and tragically shot himself in 1990, aged just fifty-five. Which helps add a further melancholy edge to his already pretty melancholy most famous song.

This is a brilliant Number One single – no doubt about it. It’s catchy, yet not banal. Familiar, yet innovative. Uplifting, yet sad. It is also – and perhaps this says more than anything I’ve written –  the first of our hundred and twenty number ones to have a ‘Behind the Lyrics’ feature on Spotify – the sort of honour only bestowed on pretty much every modern pop song but only the most classic of classic hits.

119. ‘Surrender’, by Elvis Presley

This December 24th, I’d like to wish everyone who reads ‘The UK Number Ones Blog’ a very merry Christmas. And to celebrate the festive season, let’s welcome back one of the most famous figures in Western popular culture – a man famous both for his large belly and his garish, all-in-one outfits… No, not Santa… Elvis! Yes, it’s him again. His third chart-topper of the year – and it’s only June! Like that urban myth about rats in a city; in 1961 you were never more than seven feet from an Elvis Presley #1 single.

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Surrender, by Elvis Presley (his 8th of twenty-one #1s)

4 weeks, from 1st – 29th June 1961

Or, more accurately, you’re never more than a month away from an Elvis #1 single. There were just four weeks between ‘It’s Now or Never’ and ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’, then another four weeks before ‘Wooden Heart’ came along, and exactly four weeks later here we are with ‘Surrender’. Surrender? The UK Singles Charts surrendered to Elvis a long time ago. And these aren’t just flash-in-the-pan chart toppers either – they’ve all settled in at the top for a long haul. Eight weeks, four weeks, six weeks, and now another four. Very few acts can claim to have had this kind of hold over the top spot.

To the song, then. I’ve long been familiar with this. One of the first tracks on CD2 of the Greatest Hits I bought aged sixteen or so. It’s never been my favourite Elvis song. Nor have I ever hated it. I’ve never had any strong feelings about it, I guess, but I should really muster up some kind of opinion about it or this’ll be my shortest post yet.

The intro is cool – I’ll give it that. It always makes me think of the James Bond theme. Dun-dada-dun-dada-dun-dada-dun… And then The King comes in. When we kiss my heart’s on fire… Burning with a strange desire… I’m still slightly disappointed by his voice, all smooth and honeyed as it is. I have to keep reminding myself that rock ‘n’ roll Elvis is dead, or at least in a decade-long hibernation. He sings it well, though. Obviously he sings it well. It is Elvis, after all.

So my darling please surrender… All your love so warm and tender… Let me hold you in my arms dear… While the moon shines bright above… The lyrics look pretty ridiculous, written out like that. I mentioned in my post on ‘It’s Now or Never’ that Elvis never really did subtle, and this song is ‘It’s Now or Never’ distilled and concentrated. This is Elvis on heat. The best bit is when he comes back round for a final chorus, and murmurs: Won’t you please… Surrender to me… It’s playful, it’s flirty… It’s high camp. I’m being won round as I type this, on the fourth or fifth listen. I’d put it in my Top 10 ‘Elvis Songs to Belt Out in the Shower’ (‘The Wonder of You’ is number one, in case you were wondering.)

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And in terms of his post-army, sixties number ones thus far – I’d rank ‘Surrender’ as No. 2 of 4. Behind ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ but ahead of this track’s big brother ‘It’s Now or Never’. Incidentally, ‘Surrender’ is also based on an old Neapolitan ballad, ‘Torna a Surriento’ – yet another chart topper harking back to decades earlier. And then ‘Wooden Heart’ ranks fourth. Of course. I hope I’ve left you in no doubt as to how awful that particular song is.

I think one of the reasons why I’ve neither loved, hated nor felt very strongly at all about this record is the fact that it’s so short. One minute fifty-two seconds and out. It’s over before you can really think about it; and it was never worth the effort of skipping on that old Greatest Hits CD.

There’s not much more to say here. Like I said, we’re never far from the next Elvis Presley-based #1. We’ll see him again in fo… No! Shock horror… We will have to wait a full TWENTY weeks until his next chart-topper! Is this the beginning of the end for the King, and his dominance over the UK charts? Is he preparing to leave the building? (*Spoiler Alert* No, it’s not and no, he isn’t.)

118. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven

Attention, readers. Do not panic. Do not adjust your dials. We have not, I repeat not, somehow warped back in time to 1923. This is The Temperance Seven, and this record did indeed hit #1, in the UK, during the early summer of ’61.

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You’re Driving Me Crazy, by The Temperance Seven (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 25th May – 1st June 1961

If I wasn’t already familiar with this song, I’d have assumed after the first minute or so that we were dealing with another instrumental. The first, and perhaps only time, that one instrumental record has deposed another from the top of the charts. But no. It’s just that the intro here is long and winding. Clarinets, trumpets, tubas (?)… I’m guessing there’s a sax in there somewhere too. This is a jazz record. Not jazz pop, or jazz rock, but proper, traditional Jazz. The sort that goes with flappers doing the Charleston, and gin rickeys. The sort of jazz that soundtracked all-night parties on West Egg. And we get a minute and ten seconds of this pure jazzin’ before a voice comes in…

You left me sad and lonely, Why did you leave me lonely? Lyrically, this is very simple number one. A girl is driving a man crazy… I’m burning like a flame, dear, I’ll never be the same, dear… The delivery is very knowing, extremely arch. It’s not really sung; more enounced with gusto. One pictures Noel Coward leaning against a mantlepiece, cigarette dangling lazily between two fingers, eyebrow raised… You, You’re driving me crazy… What did I do? Oh what did I do?… My tears for you, Make everything hazy… Clouding a sky of blue… The lyrics only last for a few lines, taking up barely a minute of song-time (and, at a second or two shy of four minutes, this is our longest number one so far.) It is listed as a ‘vocal refrain’, by a Mr. Paul McDowell, which only adds to the kitschy feeling.

The remainder of this record saunters along – very catchily, very jauntily… It’s an undeniably fun song. And I do like the fake-ending. But…

Something’s up here… Why is this jazz disc grabbing a week atop the charts in the post-rock ‘n’ roll era? Why is the ‘singing’ so camp? Why does this whole song feel as if it’s being delivered with a big, pantomime wink? Should I be listing this as a ‘novelty’, rather than a ‘jazz’ record? I probably should. The Temperance Seven were an Art School band, who claimed to have formed in 1904 in something called the Pasadena Cocoa Rooms… But they hadn’t – they got together in 1955 in Chelsea. They were darlings of the late 1950s London art scene, and performed at one point with comedian Peter Sellers on vocals. Imagine the cast of Monty Python in a revival of ‘Chicago’ and you’re halfway there. This record is, for want of a better description, a piss-take.

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It’s cute, it’s meta… It’s deliberately aping 1920s jazz with its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek. It’s not like previous #1s – ‘Whose Sorry Now’, ‘Mack the Knife’ et al – where old songs were covered and rebooted. This is our first ‘retro’ #1 – a record that deliberately sounds old, foreshadowing the likes of Showaddywaddy and Shakin’ Stevens by well over a decade. And it’s a pastiche done very well – The Temperance Seven were all accomplished musicians – and so the record also works as a piece of simple nostalgia. It’s also worth noting that this record was produced by one… George Martin. Of Beatles-producing fame. And whiffs of The Temperance Seven do come through in some of the Fab Four’s stuff… Listen to ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, and then ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, or ‘Honey Pie’ for example.

I’m in two minds here. I like the fact that it’s something completely different. It’s one of the weirdest number ones yet; probably one of the weirdest ever. It’s gloriously odd. It’s cool that this got anywhere near the top of the singles chart. But… There were countless ‘proper’ Trad-Jazz artists releasing records at this time. Kenny Ball, Chris Barber, Acker Bilk all had some huge hits – ‘Stranger on the Shore’ and ‘Midnight in Moscow’ and all that. Louis Armstrong was having a bit of a chart-renaissance, too. None of them got to number one, though. The jazz revival of the early 1960s is represented at the top of the UK charts, for a solitary week, by a bunch of art school kids having a bit of a laugh. And I’m not sure how I feel about that…

I am slightly biased, though. The first CD I ever bought – aged seven or eight – was a compilation full of Trad-Jazz classics. Lots of Barber, Bilk and Ball. I wanted to learn the saxophone. I wanted to be Satchmo. Even now I’ll put a Trad-Jazz playlist on when I want music that I don’t really have to listen to (and I mean that as a good thing). Nothing too experimental: no bebop, no improv… Just good, old-fashioned jazz (I did jazz-hands there as I typed that).

I have to say, though, moral quandaries over this record aside, 1961 has been an excellent year for chart-toppers. Pure pop, doo-wop, piano rags and now this… The only blot on the page – and it’s a sizeable one – has been the abominable ‘Wooden Heart’. Long may the variety, and the fun, continue!

117. ‘On the Rebound’, by Floyd Cramer

What do we have here then? A piano instrumental, with a perky little riff, strong notes of – deep breath – Russ Conway

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On the Rebound, by Floyd Cramer (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 18th – 25th May 1961

For the first twenty seconds of this record, which I’d never heard before, I was beginning to envision myself giving it a terrible write-up. Cheesy, irritating, repetitive… And it is. But. Unlike, say, Russ Conway’s records (sorry Russ, I do end up picking on you every time an instrumental #1 comes along, but you were awful…) there is a lot more to this than just the piano.

Thirty seconds in the main riff drops away and we get a little blast of honky-tonk swagger, drenched in ‘ooohs’ from the backing singers, which acts as a prelude for the brilliant moment one minute in when it all breaks down and we’re left with drums, clapping and a natty little bassline. Russ never did anything like this… This is pretty funky. Then the violins come in for a little call-and-response with Floyd’s piano. By the time the main piano riff comes back, lifted up by the backing singers, it all makes sense. And by the end, as the riff is deconstructed piece by piece and we finish with a thump, you’ve actually enjoyed it.

I feel as if I must know this song from somewhere, that I have heard it before in an advert, or a movie… It sounds really familiar. The only thing I can find is that ‘On the Rebound’ featured in ‘An Education’, a film I saw once, years ago. It surely cannot have lingered in my subconscious for so long just from that… Or maybe this is simply a sign of well-written, nicely executed little tune – that it sounds ubiquitous even when it’s not. This is a lost gem of a number one single, its week at the top buried among the leviathans of early sixties pop: Elvis, The Everlys, Cliff. It sounds simultaneously old-fashioned – this could be 1955 and that could be Winfred Atwell at the piano – and modern – the rock ‘n’ roll swagger that the drums, the guitar and the handclaps lend means that this isn’t 1955 and that certainly isn’t Ms. Atwell. The piano instrumental, though, has proved a surprisingly resilient genre over the course of this countdown… We haven’t had a trumpet, or a violin instrumental hit the top for many a year but the piano keeps on popping back up!

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Anyway, now the song is done we can focus on the main event of this post – Floyd Cramer himself. This is his one and only week as a credited chart topping star. Note, though, the emphasis on the word ‘credited’… Because the list of songs on which Cramer featured as a session pianist is mighty impressive. We’ve already heard him in the background on ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’ by The Everly Brothers, ‘That’ll Be the Day’ by The Crickets, ‘Only the Lonely’ by Roy Orbison, and on Elvis’s ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ We’ll go on to hear him on pretty much every other Elvis #1 from here ‘till 1963. The list of classic hits he featured on that failed to top the UK charts is also pretty darn impressive… *clears throat*… ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’, ‘The End of the World’, ‘Big Hunk ‘o Love’ and, oh yes, ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ (which I’m providing a link for because, hey, it’s the right time of year.)

However, Cramer struggled to score another ‘solo’ hit in the UK, and so the record books will know him solely for ‘On the Rebound’. He was known for his ‘slip-note’ style of piano playing, in which he would ‘slip’ from an out of key note into the correct note (sounds like an excuse I should have tried during my ill-fated attempt at keyboard lessons – “I didn’t play the wrong note, Sir, I was just playing in the ‘slip-note’ style. Haven’t you heard of it?”) It is this trick, I think, that gives the main riff it’s annoyingly perky, jangly feel, but what do I know? Floyd obviously felt it worked for him.

One final thing… Why’s it called ‘On the Rebound’? Honest answer: who knows? If I’ve learned one thing while writing this blog it’s that you can give an instrumental whatever the hell name you want.

116. ‘Blue Moon’, by The Marcels

I really want to try to transcribe the intro to this latest chart-topper – what an intro, by the way – but am unsure that I will be at all able… Here goes…

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Blue Moon, by The Marcels (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 4th – 18th May 1961

Bombombombombombababombabbomababamdadangeedongdangdingydongydang… There, that’s it. Give or take a couple of boms. Blue moon…! It’s certainly an intro with some life about it. A whole song, actually, that is bursting with a joie de vivre; with both vim and vigour. A real palate cleanser after *shudder* ‘Wooden Heart’. The bombombom intro-slash-refrain pops up over and over, while other voices, from dog-whistle high to comically low, shrill and soft, husky and clear, all intertwine and frolic around one another.

Seriously – this record, a set of drums and a bass-line aside, is all voice. Five voices in total, but you’d be forgiven for thinking there were more. It’s a work of art, I’d go as far to say, the manner in which these voices flirt and slide, the way in which they provide the riff and the rhythm section, as well as the actual lyrics. Lyrics that I’d guess you know quite well…

Blue moon, You saw me standing alone, Without a dream in my heart, Without a love of my own… Quite a sad song to be given such a cheery interpretation, you might think… Blue moon, You knew just what I was there for, You heard me saying a prayer for, Someone I really could care for… The singer wishes upon a blue moon (which is an actual thing, apparently – when there are two full moons in a calendar month the second is ‘blue’, though not literally) and lo! A lover appears before him… Blue moon, Now I’m no longer alone, Without a dream in my heart…

The lyrics are, in truth, pretty banal; but you don’t come to this song – to this version of ‘Blue Moon’ – for the lyrics. You come for the energy, the fizz and pop: the crazy fusion of doo-wop and barbershop. The very end of the song, where the highest note meets the final, lowest note – a doleful, drawn out Bluuuuuueeee Moon – brilliantly sums it all up. This is a mad record. And it’s only right that this song itself got to number one at least once. It’s a standard, recorded by everyone from Sinatra to Billie Holiday, Elvis to Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart to Bing Crosby, since its creation in 1934. Most of those artists took a slow an’ mournful approach to ‘Blue Moon’; but The Marcels went crazy and were rewarded with a huge, international, million-selling, rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame entering hit, and probably the definitive version of the song.

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“Who were The Marcels?” I hear you cry. They were a mixed-race (mixed-race I say! The first group of their kind to top the charts!) doo-wop group from Pennsylvania whose star burned brightly – 1961 was their year – but briefly. They split a couple of years later and didn’t have very many follow-up hits. But, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, if you’re going to be remembered for just one song, make it a good one.

I first became aware of this song as a track on the ‘Don’t Stop – Doo-Wop!’ CD I picked up 2nd hand years ago, and that I’ve made heavy mention of already in this countdown – see the posts on ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ and ‘What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?’. Alas, I think this might be the final time I get to mention that album, as doo-wop #1s are looking rather thin on the ground from this point on. It’s not on Spotify, or YouTube, but if you ever see it hanging around a bargain bin it’s well worth picking up for the oh-so-nineties cover-art alone…

115. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley

Oooh, what’s that? An accordion? Yay!… Said no-one ever. Nothing good ever starts with an accordion.

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Wooden Heart, by Elvis Presley (his 7th of twenty-one #1s)

6 weeks, from 23rd March – 4th May 1961

And what could you possibly add to said accordion to make an even more annoying sound? Ah, yes – an oompah band. Or at least the flaccid remnants of an oompah-band. So with this pair of musical buzzkills we enter Elvis’s short-lived ‘Lederhosen phase’: Can’t you see, I love you, Please don’t break my heart in two, That’s not hard to do, Cos I don’t have a wooden heart…

This is – for want of a better, more descriptive word – bad. At least Elvis has the decency to sing it like he’s embarrassed. He’s on auto-pilot – none of the emotion we were hearing on ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’, none of the bombast from ‘It’s Now or Never’ and certainly none of the energy we were hearing from him a couple of years ago on ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and ‘I Got Stung’. The song, like the oompah-rhythm, plods along until it fizzles out.

There’s no strings upon, This love of mine, It was always you from the start… And then, if you thought it sounded lame in English, just wait until you hear it in German! Or, more accurately, in Swabian – a southern German dialect. Interestingly, this adds to the list of unusual-languages-other-than-English to feature on #1 hits. We’ve had cod-Italian (‘Mambo Italiano’), cod-Scots (‘Hoots Mon!’) and now Swabian-German, but still no French, Spanish or Italian…

Anyway, at least Elvis keeps this bilge short. Two minutes; done. ‘Wooden Heart’ featured on the soundtrack to ‘G.I. Blues – the movie shot by Elvis during his time stationed in Germany with the army, in which he plays an American soldier stationed, with the army, in Germany. And if you watch the song in the context of the movie – here – with the puppets and the children and everything it kind of works. It’s kind of cute. Separated from the movie soundtrack, though, and restricted to a black vinyl disc… I struggle to understand why anyone needed to buy this. It’s genuinely one of the worst #1s so far.

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And. AND! This single didn’t just sneak a week at the top… It spent six weeks there. A month. And a half! This is how famous Elvis was in 1961. Whenever anyone makes the old joke about an artist being so popular that they could release a fart and it would go to #1, this is what they’re talking about – the six weeks across March, April and May 1961 in which ‘Wooden Heart’ was Britain’s top-selling record. Which makes sense, since the oompah parts do, to an infantile mind such as mine, sound a bit like someone farting…

If nothing else, this disc confirms what we have long suspected: that rock ‘n’ roll Elvis is long dead. Long, long dead. ‘Wooden Heart’ isn’t so much the final nail in the coffin of Elvis the rock ‘n’ roller as the litre of gasoline chucked on the coffin while it burns. When I was a teenager just getting into Elvis I always skipped this track on his Greatest Hits. Even then. But – grasping for a silver lining here – at least this means that Ricky Valance has some competition for Worst #1 in my next recap!

114. ‘Walk Right Back’ / ‘Ebony Eyes’, by The Everly Brothers

The Everly Brothers, clearly working on the ‘if it ain’t broke’ principal of hit-record making, return with their third UK chart-topper. Their second – ‘Cathy’s Clown’ – was so good, so seismically bloody brilliant, that who could blame them for trying to repeat the trick?

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Walk Right Back / Ebony Eyes, by The Everly Brothers (their 3rd of four #1s)

3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd March 1961

And yet ‘Walk Right Back’ is not simply a blow-by-blow remake. The marching rhythm remains – albeit in a much lighter shade – and the drums are every bit as commanding. But this is great little record in its own right.

I want you to tell me why you walked out on me, I’m so lonesome every da-a-ay… I want you to know that since you walked out on me, Nothin’ seems to be the same ol’ way… Are they perhaps pining over Cathy? Has she finally quit toying with them, and moved on to another guy? (Why do I always picture the Everly Brothers dating the same woman…?)

What’s for sure is that they’ve both grown a pair since the days of ‘Cathy’s Clown’. The chorus comes, and they positively demand that she: Walk right back to me this minute, Bring your love to me don’t send it… The harmonies remain strong, this is clearly the Everly’s in mid-season form – their imperious phase – and it stands a cut above most of what we’ve heard recently on this countdown. Take, for example, ‘Poetry in Motion’: a perfectly acceptable, catchy pop song. But it’s a class below this. This is high quality pop music; better than 90% of its contemporaries in a way that’s as undeniable as it is hard to explain.

The song ends on a fade-out, the brothers bemoaning that they’re so lonesome every day… And that’s that. I apologise for rushing, but we do have the flip side of this disc to get to. A song that’s nowhere near as good; but which will be much more fun to write about. ‘Ebony Eyes’ sounds, before you listen, like pure B-side fodder. And it is. But in the best possible way…

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On a weekend pass… (yep, they’re in the army now)… I wouldn’t have had time, To get home and marry, That baby of mine, So I went to the chaplain, And he authorised, Me to send for my ebony eyes… And so, Ebony Eyes hops aboard flight 1203, to Don’s, or Phil’s (or both’s?) army base. In an hour or two, I would whisper ‘I do’, To my beautiful ebony eyes…

This is soppy drivel. We’re back in the realm of ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’, the Everly’s first chart-topper, which was a world away from the brilliance of their current hits. But… What’s that? In an extended spoken word section, the brothers describe the ensuing events. I kind of want to type it out verbatim, it’s that good – but I’ll refrain. Here are the highlights:

The plane was way overdue, So I went inside to the airlines desk… They probably took off late, or they may have run into some turbulent weather, and had to alter their course… And then – a genuinely harrowing description of a plane-crash from the victims’ families POV: I went back outside and I waited at the gate, and I watched the beacon light from the control tower as it whipped through the dark ebony skies… he has to slow down here, to wait for the backing singers… As. If. It. Were. Searching. For… My eeeeboooony eyes… And then came the announcement over the loudspeaker, That those having relatives or friends on flight 1203…

Yup. Powerful stuff. We’ve got another death-disc here, folks. A Grade-A splatter-platter (brilliant term, that) which got banned from British radio for being a bit too graphic. We’ve had the goofy ‘Running Bear’, the toe-curlingly awful ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’, and now this. And just when you think this heartfelt and very natural sounding spoken word section is about to redeem the genre, and turn it into something with some musical merit about it, they start singing again.

If I ever get, To heaven I bet, The first angel I recognise… Yeah yeah, blah blah, it’s Ebony Eyes. Whatever. It kinda ruins it. But hey. This does what every good double ‘A’-side should do: places a big, proper hit alongside a completely different, slightly left-of-centre ditty. Apparently – and I can’t see why anyone thought this would be a good idea – ‘Walk Right Back’ was originally meant to be the ‘B’-side! Still, it’s always nice to hear from the Everlys, and it’s a bit sad to realise that we’ll only be seeing them once more on this countdown. ‘Till then, Don and Phil, ‘till then…

113. ‘Sailor’, by Petula Clark

Ladies and Gentlemen, something strange is about to occur atop the British Singles Chart. For the first time since 20th March 1959 – that’s twenty-three months and thirty-two #1s ago – the following chart-topper will be sung by – dun dun dun – a woman!

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Sailor, by Petula Clark (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd February – 2nd March 1961

The gap between this song and Shirley Bassey’s ‘As I Love You’ is, I’m going to assume, some kind of record for the longest gap between female-led number ones. Though, quickly glancing down my list o’ chart-toppers, it is genuinely surprising how male-dominated the sixties will be. Certain consistent stars aside – Cilla Black, Sandie Shaw, Nancy Sinatra and the like – there will be huge swathes of #1 territory taken up by blokes with guitars. I wonder that more hasn’t been made of it, to be honest. But, I suppose, that’s all a story for another day. We have a new number one – let’s take a look at it…

It starts with a harmonica, an instrument under-represented so far in this countdown… Sailor, Stop your roamin’, Sailor, Leave the sea… Sailor, When the tide turns, Come home, Safe to me… It’s cute, and lilting, like the waves upon the ocean. Then comes the chorus, and it’s a proper sing-along one: As you sail across the sea all my love is there beside you…

It’s kind of old-fashioned. Kind of cheesy. Above all I’d describe it as ‘sentimental;  what the Germans call a ‘schlager’ song. It’s a hard one to place –  a song that might have been a hit any time between 1940 and 1975 – and one that reminds me of certain #1s from years already gone by. It’s a ‘Come Home to Me, My Love’ kind of song, the sailor in the title presumably being in the navy and separated from his amour against his will, as in Anne Shelton’s 1956 hit ‘Lay Down Your Arms’. But I’m more reminded of Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’ – the second ever UK #1 – when Clark lists all the countries to which her man is sailing: In Capri or Amsterdam, Honolulu or Siam… (not sure which war he’s fighting in to take him on that erratic route, but anyway).

And then the pub-at-closing time feel of the chorus puts me in mind of The Stargazer’s 1954 smash ‘I See The Moon’, albeit with the crazy dialled back several shades. It’s a light little song that just about stays on the right side of cheesy, aside from the line about his final destination being ‘the harbour of her heart’…

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To be honest this song is perhaps best used as an excuse to draw people’s attention to the Life and Times of Petula Clark. In my post on the last female chart topper, I referred to Shirley Bassey as the First Lady of British pop. But that title might just as equally go to Ms. Clark. She went from being a childhood star, to a WWII Forces’ Sweetheart, to a global, multi-lingual superstar – equally as popular in France (‘Sailor’ was released there, in French  as ‘Marin’, reaching #2) and the USA as she was in Britain. Her first chart hit – ‘The Little Shoemaker’ – came in 1954, although she had been releasing singles since the dusty pre-chart days of 1949. And then, while all the big female pre-rock stars fell by the wayside – Vera Lynn, Kitty Kallen, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney et al – Clark kept going. Rock ‘n’ roll didn’t hurt her. In fact, she grew in popularity. Not even the Merseybeat revolution will be able to see her off!

We’ll meet Petula again in six years or so for her second #1, which is officially A Good Thing. Between then and now she will release her signature hit, ‘Downtown’, and my personal favourite – possibly the most uplifting song ever – ‘I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love’, which featured on a cassette of sixties hits that stayed on heavy rotation in our family car back when I was eight or nine. The songs on it were strictly 2nd-tier hits in chart terms – no Beatles, Elvis or Stones for obvious licensing reasons but plenty of Tremeloes, Emile Ford, Kenny Ball and T. Rex (sixties T. Rex, before they were particularly famous) – but I’d give anything to find out what the hell that tape was called. My love for all this glorious fifties and sixties pop stems directly from that compilation – in fact this very blog probably stems from what that tape awakened in me. As a small child I listened to very little music recorded post-1969. Until I turned ten and The Spice Girls came along, that is… But that’s yet another story for yet another day.

112. ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’, by Elvis Presley

What is Elvis’s most famous ballad? If you were an Elvis impersonator looking to slow things down on stage, to which song would you turn? I’d say either ‘Love Me Tender’, ‘Always on My Mind’, ‘The Wonder of You’, or, perhaps most likely, this.

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Are You Lonesome Tonight?, by Elvis Presley (his 6th of twenty-one #1s)

4 weeks, from 26th January – 23rd February 1961

Are you lonesome tonight, Do you miss me tonight, Are you sorry, We drifted, Apart? This is a country-tinged record – I mean, ‘lonesome’, come on! – during which you can imagine Elvis sat on a hay-bale, gently strumming, as the embers of the evening’s fire grow weak. It’s also perhaps the most minimalist #1 yet: no drums, no bass – just a guitar, some mellow backing vocals from The Jordanaires, and Mr. Presley.

I feel that Elvis, throughout much of his career, struggled to keep things subtle. Just look at those jumpsuits for a start… He had some really beautiful, low-key moments early on (his version of ‘Blue Moon’, for a start) but come his post-army days he was becoming ever more a fan of the semi-operatic, belt-em-out at full volume type hits (see ‘It’s Now or Never’). But he really does hold back here, purring the lines like a lovesick cat. Every so often he adds a bit of oomph – shall I come back… again? – but he quickly reigns it in. And this gentle approach really teases out the emotion in each line. I’ve always loved the Do the chairs in your parlour, Seem empty, And bare? Do you gaze at your doorstep, And picture me there? line. It’s kinda deep – a step above your usual rock ‘n’ roll love song.

And then… Oh my. Elvis talks. I wonder if… You’re lonesome tonight… Elvis couldn’t half talk. I make this only the second #1 to have featured a spoken-word section, after Pat Boone’s ‘I’ll Be Home’. And this isn’t just a couple of lines we’re talking about here. In a three minute record, Elvis talks for well over a minute of it. That’s more than a third of the song, people! Only The King could have gotten away with it. He ‘quotes’ Shakespeare, and describes a love in three acts… It’s amazing, and it peaks when his voice goes all serious, like a disappointed teacher: Honey, You lied when you said you loved me… But no matter how upset he is, he just can’t get over this woman. If you won’t come back to me, Then they can bring the curtain down…

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I struggle to believe that someone like Elvis had to spend many lonesome nights over the course of his life, without specifically choosing to; but he sells it here. He sounds heartbroken and vulnerable. Legend has it that he recorded this track at 4am, alone in the studio with all the lights out. And you can believe it, you really can. Contrast ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ with Cliff’s most recent chart-topper ‘I Love You’ – another simple-as little love song. But where that came off as cheesy and trite, this one comes off as timeless, and will actually make your spine tingle if you let it. This record is all about Elvis: The Voice. And that’s true star quality. Sorry Cliff.

‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ has a history that goes way beyond the 1960s, and beyond Elvis. Add this to ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, ‘It’s All in the Game’, ‘Mack the Knife’ and countless other songs from earlier in this countdown, as being originally written and recorded decades before. In this case it dates from 1926. Though – and I’m being kind here – Elvis’s version makes those from the twenties sound pretty darn lightweight. BUT. If you think I’m finally, six number ones into his UK chart career, giving The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll the credit that he deserves then to you I say this: ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ may be his best chart-topper so far (yes, I’m going there) but his next #1, not too long from now, will not be ‘lonesome’. Oh no. It will be genuinely loathsome.